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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Review: Abyss of the Sacrifice (Nintendo Switch)

Review by Matt S. 

Abyss of the Sacrifice is a terrible name... but the game isn't so bad. It's one of those escape room things - i.e. through most of it you'll find your protagonist trapped in once scenario or another, and they'll need to figure out a sequence of puzzles to unlock a door (literal or metaphorical) to progress. Each of those locked rooms comes in the context of an overall, massive, "locked room" with the ultimate goal being to escape an underground city that the characters are trapped in.

Abyss of the Sacrifice was originally released on PSP back in 2010, and clearly draws inspiration from the Zero Escape take on the visual novel genre (the original Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors being a 2009 release on the Nintendo DS). What distinguishes this one is that the entire cast are girls, and there's a pretty healthy dose of fan service that comes with that. Nothing explicit, but you sure do get a good look at their legs from some very choice angles.

These girls can be absolutely horrible to one another, depending on the path you take through the narrative (indeed, Abyss of the Sacrifice can go to some really dark places). With that being said, given that the life-and-death stakes are so core to experience, the writers were relatively sanitised in how they handled it. Perhaps I'm too desensitized at this point, but to me, Abyss of the Sacrifice lacks the sadistic edge of titles like Danganronpa and Quantum Suicide (and the Nonary Games titles themselves), which can leave a plot that should have been intense often feeling quite flat.

Additionally, the translation isn't quite up to the narrative intensity, though it's certainly readable and legible, and each of the characters is nicely rounded and have their own interesting backstories. In fact, one of the best design elements in the game is the way the narrative plays out, as you'll jump from character to character between chapters, allowing you to see events and characters from different perspectives. Between chapters, you get taken to a timeline flowchart that shows you which character you'll be able to play which events through, and while I would have liked that web to be a little more intricate, and the game do a little more with the structure by introducing more compelling examples of unreliable narrators and so on, I found this side of the game to be so much more compelling than the actual puzzles.

Abyss of the Sacrifice's puzzles are, typically, obtuse, requiring you to follow a trail of breadcrumbs in a very precise order to arrive at the solution. In theory, I don't mind puzzles that play out as a flowchart, but it's really important that the logic that drives them is clear and not arbitrary. The Zero Escape series is a really good example of good puzzle design in this vein. I was stumped frequently in those games, but the solutions were almost always clear when I sat back and thought about them for a while, and therefore solving the puzzles were satisfying. I don't recall ever finding myself clicking around at random and trying to combine weird items together in order to trial-and-error my way into a solution in those games. Meanwhile, the logic behind the puzzles of Abyss of the Sacrifice is not always clear, and the hint system seems to enjoy being as obscure as the puzzles themselves. I freely admit that I turned to a guide to get through some of this game's puzzles, and I was consistently dumbfounded by the solutions. You can get a feel for what the puzzles are like from the stream that I did a few weeks ago (above). The entire game continues in the same vein as what I experienced there.

I also found the presentation to be very uneven. The key art CGs are excellent (and, as I said, very leggy - this game likes its short skirts), and the backgrounds are beautifully detailed and evocative of an exotic and vaguely unsettling underworld. It's a little "cleaner" than the Saw-like aesthetic of The Nonary Games titles, as a point of comparison, but it sets the scene well. The character portraits and sprites, however, are a little too plain and clash uncomfortably with their surroundings when they're talking to one another. I would hazard a guess that different artists were involved in the background and character design, and they don't resolve well with one another.

With that being said, this game was clearly made on a budget, and the aesthetics do what they need to with carrying a story that is by turns dark, sinister, and at times sexy. It could have done with being a little shorter, though. There are plenty of twists and turns that keep things exciting, but Abyss of the Sacrifice is about 50 hours to run through (give or take, depending on your puzzle-solving abilities), and that's just too long for what this narrative deserves.

Abyss of the Sacrifice is close to being something special, but its little irritants around presentation, puzzle consistency and design, and localisation mean that you'll need to be pretty far down the visual novel rabbit hole to want to play this. It wasn't long ago that Root Double was debuted on the Nintendo Switch, for example, and that game too takes place in an underground facility that the characters are trapped in. It might lack the puzzles, but it is incredibly well written, and as we see with Abyss of the Sacrifice, sometimes a VN is better off without the puzzles anyway.

- Matt S. 
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

Review: Abyss of the Sacrifice (Nintendo Switch)
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